Coast Trail, Point Reyes: Palomarin Trailhead, San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes, California
Coast Trail - 17.0 miles
Point Reyes: Palomarin Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||17.0 miles (one-way thru-hike distance)|
|Start-End Elevation:||255' - 108' (853' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||-147' net elevation loss (+2,310' total thru-hike elevation gain)|
Coast Trail - 17.0 Miles Round-Trip
The Coast Trail is Point Reyes' longest trail, stretching 17 miles from the Palomarin Trailhead (south) to the Coast Trailhead over Limantour Beach (north). It passes through varied terrain and three distinct biotic communities with access to multiple beaches and points of interest.
In spring the Coast Trail is a brilliant green bursting with wildflowers, while autumn sees golden hillsides illuminated by clear, crisp skies.
South-north travel maximizes lighting and tackles the most challenging portions early on. The following description begins at the Palomarin Trailhead and travels north:
The Coast Trail weaves through a eucalyptus grove to open bluffs over Palomarin Beach (.4 miles). It rises gradually over Palomarin Beach before making a decisive inland turn (1.2 miles : 340') that curls around a broad coastal valley near Abalone Point. Note clear delineations between diminutive coastal scrub on lower slopes, and Douglas fir forests above.
The trail pushes up and further inland, a chance to examine the coast's inner-topography while allowing morning fog to clear. The undulating, sheltered climb crests near the Lake Ranch Trail junction (2.23 miles : 560'), beyond which it eases by a cluster of small, lily-padded ponds.
This is an ideal place to look for waterfowl, deer, fox, quail, rabbit and bobcat. Social trails thread the pond complex, but be mindful of poison ivy, oak and stinging nettles as you explore.
Bass Lake soon comes into view (2.75 miles : 445'), however thick vegetation limits access to one spur on its northwest corner (2.9 miles : 400').
The trail rises over Bass Lake and bends west through dense forest past the Crystal Lake Trail split (3.15 miles : 482') to the Alamere Falls Trail split (3.75 miles : 270'). Timber reclaims the trail as it edges toward the coast and crosses Alamere Creek (4.0 miles : 140').
The forest yields to open rolling hills at the Ocean Lake Loop Trail junction (4.3 miles : 215'), where you have the equidistant option of continuing on the Coast Trail or taking the Ocean Lake Loop (which rejoins the Coast Trail in 1.2 miles).
The former veers back inland with easy access to Wildcat Lake; the latter passes through arguably more interesting topography, is lightly traveled and provides excellent views of Wildcat Beach. Choose the Ocean Lake Loop on clear days and during peak wildflower season.
The Ocean Lake Loop undulates toward the coast and skirts a marsh, another good place to find wildlife. It trends up to a bluff with rangy views over Wildcat Beach (5.05 miles : 328').
A short jaunt leads back inland to rejoin the Coast Trail (5.5 miles : 185'), which drops down a wide coastal valley to Wildcat Camp (5.65 miles : 35').
Take advantage of easy beach access and campground facilities before beginning the Coast Trail's most demanding section, an 830' climb in under 1.5 miles. The trail pushes north over Wildcat Camp on a wide, graded path to the Stewart Trail split (6.4 miles : 450').
It hairpins sharply left, while the road-trail you've enjoyed to this point continues straight. Anticipate this junction, as the sign is rather concealed just off trail (left).
The strenuous climb crests at 853' (7.2 miles), and moderates in a thin, nondescript forest to the Glen Spur South (7.35 miles : 830') and Glen Spur North junctions (7.9 miles : 732').
The trail finally emerges from the shadow of upland forests in open coastal chaparral (8.4 miles : 610') and drops steeply back to the coast. This fast, twisting descent enjoys magnificent views of Millers Point , Arch Rock and Drakes Bay.
The trail is faint and overgrown on the approach to and across Coast Creek; remain vigilant and tread cautiously through this tangled ravine of poison ivy, oak and stinging nettles. The trail climbs out of the ravine and joins the Bear Valley Trail with access to Arch Rock.
Follow signs carefully from the Bear Valley Trail - Arch Rock junction (9.35 miles : 55'): turn right, then left (9.45 miles : 105') to remain on the Coast Trail.
Travel eases considerably beyond Arch Rock on a broad, level terrace lined by thick coastal chaparral and scrub - a zone characterized by stunted, hardy brush adapted to the coast's intemperate, saline environment.
The pace quickens past the Sky Trail junction (10.05 miles : 145') with improving views of Point Resistance, a divisive headland flanked by Kelham Beach (south) and Secret Beach north.
After nearly two miles of straight-ahead travel the trail curls inland, following natural contours across a bridge and ravine that drains into Kelham Beach (11.55 miles : 140'). A newly constructed spur offers easy access to this exceptional beach.
The Coast Trail rounds the north side of Point Resistance, below which lies Secret Beach. Secret Beach is celebrated for its coves, arches, tunnels, sea stacks and isolation. Knowledgeable travelers with reliable tide tables can reach it from Sculptured Beach. Consult a Ranger for tide and seasonal travel details.
Another bridge and ravine crossing at 12.45 miles (115') leads to the Sculptured Beach access trail (12.7 miles : 160'), which is on your left and easy to miss. Sculptured Beach is highlighted by tide pools, sea stacks and several turbulent coves.
You'll pass the Woodward Trail junction (13.1 miles : 155') with emerging views of Limantour Spit, Drakes Estero, Drakes Beach, and Chimney Rock. Note lingering evidence of the 1995 Vision Fire on the upper slopes of Woodward Valley.
The trail widens on hard-pack double track as it drops gently through Coast Camp (13.8 miles : 45') with access to Santa Maria Beach.
It rises back over Coast Camp to the Fire Trail junction (14.1 miles : 52'), then drops and levels once more atop low bluffs over Santa Maria Beach (14.25 miles : 22').
Just past the Limantour Beach access spur (15.1 miles : 8') the Coast Trail curls inland one final time for a winding climb to the Coast Trailhead.
The trail heads northeast through a shady stretch of alders, a welcome reprieve after many exposed miles. The trail rises above the woodland into a wide valley to its terminus at the Coast Trailhead on Point Reyes Youth Hostel Road (17.0 miles : 108').
- N37 56.057 W122 44.826 — 0.0 miles : Palomarin Trailhead
- N37 56.250 W122 45.560 — 1.0 mile mark
- N37 56.591 W122 45.494 — 2.0 mile mark
- N37 56.799 W122 45.436 — 2.2 miles : Lake Ranch Trail junction
- N37 57.160 W122 45.886 — 2.9 miles : Bass Lake access spur
- N37 57.104 W122 46.160 — 3.15 miles : Crystal Lake Trail junction
- N37 57.233 W122 46.689 — 3.75 miles : Alamere Falls Trail junction
- N37 57.495 W122 46.923 — 4.3 miles : Ocean Lake Loop junction #1
- N37 57.932 W122 47.268 — 5.05 miles : Ocean Lake Loop crest
- N37 58.228 W122 47.181 — 5.45 miles : Ocean Lake Loop rejoins Coast Trail
- N37 58.212 W122 47.404 — 5.65 miles : Wildcat Campground
- N37 58.493 W122 47.139 — 6.4 miles : Stewart Trail junction
- N37 58.720 W122 47.601 — 7.0 miles : Continue steep climb
- N37 58.903 W122 47.448 — 7.35 miles : Glen Trail south access spur
- N37 59.175 W122 47.916 — 7.9 miles : Glen Trail north access spur
- N37 59.379 W122 48.731 — 9.35 miles : Bear Valley Trail junction - bear right
- N37 59.438 W122 48.631 — 9.5 miles miles : Rejoin Coast Trail - bear left
- N37 59.636 W122 48.988 — 10.05 miles : Sky Trail junction
- N38 00.378 W122 49.942 — 11.55 miles : Cross bridge over creek
- N38 00.623 W122 50.460 — 12.7 miles : Sculptured Beach access spur
- N38 00.839 W122 50.882 — 13.15 miles : Woodward Trail junction
- N38 01.036 W122 51.243 — 13.8 miles : Coast Camp
- N38 01.181 W122 51.311 — 14.1 miles : Laguna Trail junction
- N38 02.625 W122 51.814 — 17 miles : Coast Trailhead
- Never attempt to scale or rappel down cliffs to reach a beach. Cliff walls are unstable and crumble easily. Tides can rise quickly and trap you. Stay on designated trails and avoid trampling through sensitive vegetation.
- Weather is unpredictable and can change quickly in Point Reyes, especially along the coast. Anticipate a range of conditions throughout the day. Carry multiple layers, rain gear and sun protection.
- Arch Rock is a protruding headland with an arch in its base. The Arch Rock bluff stands over two secluded beaches and miles of pristine coast. Consider this easy .3 mile roundtrip excursion. A short social trail leads down to and through the arch at low tide.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Camping is by permit only. Camping permits must be obtained from the Bear Valley Visitor Center before starting your trip. If you have made a reservation and are arriving after 5 p.m., a permit will be left for you in a small wooden box on the back side of the information board outside the Bear Valley Visitor Center.
- Campsites may be reserved up to three months in advance. To obtain a reservation, call 415.663.8054 between 9 am and 2 pm, Monday - Friday. Reservations by phone are not accepted at any other time. You may make reservations in person 7 days a week at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. You may also fax your reservation using our fax form and fax number: 415.464.5149.
- Wood fires are prohibited in hike-in campgrounds. Only gas stoves, charcoal or canned heat may be used for cooking. Downed wood may not be gathered and burned.
- Camping is limited to 4 nights per visit, with a maximum of 30 nights per year.
- The minimum age of any camper is 18 unless accompanied by an adult.
- Pets are not permitted in campgrounds. The maximum number of horses or pack animals in any campground is eight. Pack animals and horses must be tied to hitch rails.
Wildcat Camp - Campground Information
- Wildcat Camp is located in a coastal meadow between bluffs and the ocean It's located 5.65 miles from the Palomarin Trailhead, 7.8 miles from the Bear Valley Trailhead, and 6.7 miles from Five Brooks Trailhead.
- There are 5 individual sites and 3 group sites; three of the individual sites only hold up to four people. Each individual site has a picnic table, food storage locker and charcoal grill. Group sites have two picnic tables, two food storage lockers and one large or two regular charcoal grills.
Glen Camp - Campground Information
- Glen Camp is tucked in a quiet wooded valley, 4.6 miles from the Bear Valley Visitor Center via the Bear Valley Trail and Glen Trail. To access via bicycle, start at the Five Brooks Trailhead and follow the Stewart Trail to the Glen Trail, then north to the Glen Camp Loop. This is 6.3 mile bike ride. No groups, horses, or pack animals are allowed at Glen Camp. There are 12 individual sites at Glen Camp.
Sky Camp - Campground Information
- Sky Camp is located on the west side of Mt. Wittenberg in open rolling meadows, 1.4 miles from the Sky Trailhead on Limantour Road. The site is located at 1,025'. On clear days it provides sweeping panoramas across Drakes Bay. Sky Camp has 11 individual sites and 1 group site.
Coast Camp - Campground Information
- Coast Camp is located in a small coastal valley with easy access to Santa Maria Beach. The shortest route begins from the Laguna Trailhead, and travels 1.8 miles on the Laguna and Firelane Trails. It's also accessible from the Coast Trailhead for a longer but easier 2.7 mile route that's also open to bikes.
- Coast Camp is located approximately 9.5 miles from the Bear Valley Visitor Center via the Bear Valley and Coast Trails. 12 individual sites and two group sites are available. Sites 1-7 are in a semi-protected canyon.
Rules and Regulations
- Dogs are not permitted on the Coast Trail.
- Bikes are not permitted on the Coast Trail.
- Wood Fires: Permits are now required for any wood fire within the National Seashore. Permits are available at visitor centers, the dispatch office, and from field rangers. Permits may only be obtained on the day you plan on having a fire. The permit is free. Permits are not available or valid during high, very high or extreme fire danger. For current fire information, call 415.464.5100 x2 x1.
- Wood Fire Locations: Wood fires are allowed only on beaches (below the high tide line, if possible), 9 meters (30 feet) or more from vegetation and other flammable material - nowhere else.
- Wood Fire Fuel: Reasonable amounts of driftwood may be gathered from beaches. Driftwood should be dry and clean (i.e., no wood coated with creosote or other chemicals, no wood embedded with nails or other metal objects), and shouldn't be much larger or longer than your arm.
- Fire Size and Dousing: The fire may not be more than 0.9 meters (36 inches) in diameter.Before leaving your beach fire, put it out completely with water. Douse the fire with water, stir the coals, douse with water again. Repeat until the coals do not emit any heat. Do not cover the coals with sand, as it will only insulate the heat and be an unseen danger to wildlife and barefoot visitors.
- Fires must be extinguished by 12 midnight.
Directions to Trailhead
The Palomarin Trailhead is located 15.4 miles south of the Highway 1 - Sir Francis Drake Intersection in Olema, CA (or 15.9 miles from the Bear Valley Visitor Center).
From Highway 1 - Sir Francis Drake Intersection:
Head south on Highway 1 for 9.1 miles to the Olema-Bolinas Road intersection and bear right. This is an unmarked 'Y' intersection (if you find yourself driving with the Bolinas Lagoon on your right, you've gone too far).
Continue 1.3 miles to the stop sign on Horseshoe Hill Road. Turn Left to remain on the Olema-Bolinas Road. Continue .5 miles to Mesa Road and turn right (west). Travel 4.5 miles on Mesa Road to its terminus at the Palomarin Trailhead and Parking Lot.
Point Reyes National Seashore
1 Bear Valley Rd.
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Visitor Information: 415.464.5100 x2 or 415.663.8522 x2
Headquarters: 415.464.5100 x 1
Volunteer Information: 415.464.5145
Education Programs: 415.464.5139
Special Use Permits: 415.464.5111